An outspoken Irish priest, who was removed from his post last month after performing an unconventional baptism, is to receive his former parish's highest honor on Thursday.

Augustinian priest Fr. Iggy O'Donovan clashed with the Vatican on several matters, most recently after a complaint was made that he went against Catholic tradition by allowing godparents to pour water on a baby's head during a baptism.

O’Donovan was hugely popular in Drogheda,a town of 40,000 30 miles from Dublin especially among young people . He is credited with saving many depressed young people from suicide.

The complaint, which was made without the knowledge of the parents who later said they fully supported the cleric, was addressed to Cardinal Sean Brady and subsequently forwarded to Rome.

The baby was baptised for a second time, after another priest in the diocese approached the parents and told them the baby would have to receive the sacrament a second time - but not by Fr. O'Donovan who had been ordered to take a year-long sabbatical in Limerick by his church superiors.

However, the cleric-of-30-years, who remains a hugely popular figure amongst his parishioners in Drogheda, Co. Louth, will return there today to receive the town's highest honour.

He will follow in the footsteps of the likes of Pope John II, Eamon de Valera and Charles Stewart Parnell when he is awarded the Freedom of Drogheda.

The Irish Times reports that the honour follows a unanimous decision by the the town's council earlier this month and is in recognition of his 12 years working as a priest in the parish, during which he worked tirelessly with voluntary organisations and charities.

It's also likely that Fr. O'Donovan will make history as the last person ever to receive the prestigious award, as Drogheda Borough Council is to be abolished under the Local Government Act.

Fr. O'Donovan appeared mystified when Church leaders 'exiled' him to Limerick last month, saying at the time:  "What I want to know is why was the baptism deemed invalid and on what grounds?  I feel that my ministry was undermined."

It wasn't the first time the churchman had clashed with the Vatican - as Catholic leaders expressed their anger over an Easter Sunday Mass in 2006 that Fr. O'Donovan celebrated alongside a counterpart in the Church of Ireland in Drogheda.

However, the huge respect he has in his parish is unquestioned and was evident at his farewell Mass in Drogheda last month, when over 1,500 people packed into his church.

And speaking of today's award, he described it as an "enormous honour".

He added:  "The last one to get it was Pope John Paul II and he is to be canonised.  But seriously, I am very moved by it."